For those of you that have been around for a while, you know that in the beginning, Mike Axisa of River Ave Blues was a bit helper in getting us off the ground here. Naturally, I’m a Yankee fan, and I read RAB daily. Recently, Mike penned a post about prospect fatigue, and how fans and experts alike sometimes get tired of mentioning the same prospect for multiple years in a row. This is not a concept that is unique to baseball.

This same concept, I believe, applies to Dylan McIlrath. Drafted in the first round in 2010, McIlrath was a project pick who would take several years to develop. A huge, punishing defenseman meant to be that big time crease clearer that the Rangers haven’t had since Jeff Beukeboom. Five years later, McIlrath is still developing along his slow timetable.

For the first few years, McIlrath was always ranked somewhat highly in the prospect rankings coming from Hockeys Future, Corey Pronman, or more recently, Adam Herman. But the longer he was in the system, even when he was still in the AHL, he dropped in the rankings. On Hockey Future, McIlrath is ranked as the 5th best defenseman. Pronman had him 9th overall. Herman 8th. McIlrath, up until this year, usually was in the top-five.

So what changed?

People are tired about hearing about McIlrath. The “bust” word has been thrown around a lot lately because it’s been five full seasons since McIlrath was drafted, and he has a few unimpressive NHL games on his resume. But, there’s a story to those five years.

First, McIlrath missed half a season in the AHL with a dislocated knee cap suffered in practice. This was during his age-20 season, so he missed prime development time. When you miss 40 games like that, you basically need to start your development over. So, McIlrath was already behind the 8-ball from the get-go. When you throw in his skating concerns –discussed below– then a knee injury like that sets him back even further.

The longer McIlrath takes to make an impact, the more fans start wondering what could have been with Cam Fowler or Vladimir Tarasenko, two guys the Rangers passed over in 2010 to take McIlrath. As reviews of his poor skating leak out, people get more and more discouraged. It’s human nature, you’ve been hearing about a guy for five years and his skating is a known concern. Naturally, you move to the worst case scenario.

That’s why most people think this is a make or break year for McIlrath. He’s been in the pool for five years, despite being just 22 years old (23 in April), so there’s some level of fatigue when it comes to talking about him and a future spot in the lineup. It’s about time he cracked the lineup, but right now there’s no spot for him, which seemingly makes matters worse.

But it’s not all bad with McIlrath. The coaching staff has said he’s making significant progress in the AHL, and he’s getting top pairing minutes. He’s younger than guys like Conor Allen and Mat Bodie. He’s only four months older than Petr Zamorsky. In fact, there are only two defensemen who are younger than McIlrath that are considered legitimate defensive prospects: Ryan Graves and Brady Skjei.

I think the argument can be made that McIlrath may actually benefit from the fact the Rangers don’t have a right-defenseman spot open this year or next (for now). It forces the Rangers to take their time with him, something the organization knew from the start. He was always a project pick, and bigger defensemen usually take more time to develop.

Here’s the thing with McIlrath: If he’s a pure fighter, someone who can’t skate at all, can’t gap control properly, and can’t defend his own zone, then he’s not going to make it at the NHL level. But just because he’s big doesn’t mean he can’t do any of that. Zdeno Chara was one of the best defensemen in the game, and he took forever to develop. He’s not the best skater, but he manages his gaps and defends very well. McIlrath won’t be Chara, but if he can manage his own zone, he will be fine.

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